Ball State and its School of Music have a robust connection to Clemson University, where four music alumni are performing arts professors: Paul L. Buyer, ’92 (director of music and percussion), Andrew Levin, DA ’93 (director of orchestral activities), Mark Spede, MM ’88 (director of bands), and Bruce Whisler, ’82 MM ’92 DA ’02 (director of audio technology).
“It probably seems odd to people that four of our faculty here went to Ball State,” Spede said, but notes that it may not be as unlikely as it sounds. “Ball State had 550 music majors at the time, which is pretty big. It was a vibrant community of musicians.”
Below are profiles of the musical Cardinals who found their way to South Carolina and to Clemson.
Performance and personal attention
Paul Buyer said he was drawn to Ball State’s School of Music as an undergraduate because of its reputation for personal attention to students. “I wanted to find a teacher who would really mentor me and show me what I needed to learn,” he said. He found that in alumnus Erwin Mueller, now professor emeritus, who would later inspire him to pursue his doctorate.
During his freshman year, the Munster, Indiana, native practiced six hours each day in pursuit of excellence and became friends with another future Clemson professor: Mark Spede was pursuing his master’s and taught the drumline when Buyer was a freshman cymbal player, and also taught the jazz band in which Buyer performed.
In addition to Ball State’s University Singers and pep band, Buyer also performed with the Muncie Symphony Orchestra at the same time Andrew Levin was a violist in the ensemble. During his senior year, Buyer taught the drumline and was president of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity before pursuing a master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Arizona, where he majored in percussion performance.
Buyer taught high school band in Garland, Texas, in charge of the symphonic band, jazz band, brass ensemble, and percussion program, but always knew he wanted to teach at the college level. “This one was a great fit,” he said of Clemson. “I sat by the reflection pond and just looked out there and said, ‘Man, it would be awesome to work here.’”
Starting at Clemson in 1998, he was still finishing his doctorate, so he would teach and lead the drumline during the day and study from 7 to 11 each night. In 2002, 10 years after graduating from Ball State, Buyer would reunite with Spede when he served as committee chair to hire a new band director.
Answering the call
Mark Spede’s journey to Ball State began as a University of Michigan student who earned a spot on the All-American Marching Band in Disney World. There he met Ball State music alumnus Joe Scagnoli, who directed the band and helmed Western Carolina University’s band program during the school year.
A few years later, Spede was on the road performing when he decided to visit Ball State on an off-weekend. During a campus stroll, he spotted a familiar name on an office door: Joe Scagnoli, who had moved to Muncie to become director of bands at Ball State (and is now a professor emeritus). Scagnoli encouraged him to pursue a master’s degree at Ball State, where Spede became a graduate assistant, served as assistant director of bands, instructed and wrote music for the drumline, performed in the top jazz band while conducting the third-level band, played in the Wind Ensemble, directed the Ball State show choir band, studied conducting, and wrote his first marching band arrangement.
Amidst this busy schedule, Spede met his future wife, Jani (Farlow) ’90, in the drumline and jazz band, as well as Paul Buyer in those same ensembles.
Spede credits Scagnoli with teaching him how a college band program runs. From his jazz band conductor, Larry McWilliams (now instructor emeritus), he learned much about rehearsal technique. And from Leonard Atherton (now professor emeritus), he learned about conducting.
After graduation, Spede worked for six years with University of Florida’s band program, then completed his doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin while his wife joined a start-up company that grew massively its first few years. The couple relocated to New York City so Jani could open a new office with the company. A few years later, they were both looking for a change.
Out of the blue, Spede got a call from Buyer suggesting he apply for an opening as Clemson’s director of bands. In the time since Spede joined Clemson in 2002, the Tiger Band has grown to its largest size ever and has accompanied the football team to two national championship games.
“The performing arts students ask me, ‘What’s your best advice?’” Spede said. “And I always tell them, ‘Do the best job you can, no matter what anybody asks you to do, and be positive about it because you never know down the line, somebody may notice you and think of you for a job, and you just never know when that call’s going to come.’”
Growing an orchestra
After Andrew Levin received his master’s degree from Rice University, the Los Angeles native was teaching piano and strings and conducting a community orchestra in Houston when he decided to pursue a doctorate.
Ball State offered Levin a doctoral assistantship that focused on his viola playing: he sat principal viola in the Ball State University Symphony Orchestra and played in the graduate string quartet. In addition, Levin performed in area symphonies and orchestras, including the Muncie Symphony, where he performed with both Buyer and Whisler. Whisler later performed in Levin’s final doctoral conducting recital.
Levin earned a doctor of arts degree through a School of Music program designed to prepare superior musicians for careers that combine teaching, performance, and scholarship. Among the faculty helping prepare Levin for his future was Professor Atherton, who conducted both the University and Muncie symphony orchestras. Levin said Atherton’s tutelage still helps guide his thinking when it comes to programming orchestra concerts and preparing his musicians for performance.
When the position of conductor of the Clemson University Symphony Orchestra (CUSO) opened up, Levin had neither heard of Clemson nor been to South Carolina. CUSO was only a few years old at the time and included members from both the Clemson student body and the surrounding community. Since Levin was hired in 1993, CUSO has grown tremendously from the string orchestra of 17 musicians that Levin conducted at his audition, to the full orchestra of 65-70 talented musicians that now performs.
Over the years, Levin has brought University music faculty to perform with the CUSO; he received the Alumni Achievement Citation in 2009, recognizing exceptional graduates of Ball State’s School of Music.
Bruce Whisler’s journey with Ball State began with his undergraduate education. A music education major specializing in trumpet, Whisler attended Ball State just as its audio technology program was beginning. He took a few courses in the burgeoning field, but it was not his primary area of study.
After five years of public school teaching, Whisler returned to Ball State to pursue master of music and doctoral degrees, specializing in music and audio technology. As a graduate assistant, he supervised recordings for the School of Music. Whisler made numerous recordings of the music faculty’s Da Camera Brass Quintet, Musical Arts Woodwind Quintet, and string quartet. Many of those recordings aired on Indiana Public Radio and on National Public Radio’s “Performance Today.” He found time to remain an active trumpet player, performing in the Muncie Symphony, Marion Philharmonic, and Richmond Symphony orchestras. He often worked with Andrew Levin in various capacities and the two even had a few classes together.
Whisler’s dissertation was an acoustical analysis of whether there was any benefit from cryogenically freezing brass instruments. Several trumpets were acoustically tested, then cryogenically frozen in Decatur, Illinois, and tested again. Since human players cannot reliably repeat tones with exactly the same air flow and pressure, Whisler had to design and construct a machine that could play pitches on the trumpet. This machine cannot play music, but it can reliably repeat pitches and sustain them indefinitely. The tones were analyzed by a computer-based program.
Looking back on his time at Ball State, Whisler said he enjoyed being part of such a broad music department with so many opportunities. He, too, appreciated the support and enthusiasm of Professors Mueller and McWilliams, as well as the guidance of music technology professor emeritus Cleve Scott and Paul Everett, associate professor emeritus of music performance.
After Whisler finished his coursework, he stayed on as a faculty lecturer at Ball State until 1997. His wife was hired as a music librarian at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, where Whisler himself served as an adjunct faculty member until being contacted by Levin about a music technology position. In 2002, Whisler was hired as a faculty member and has helped lead the audio technology program since then.